Explosion Rocks Istanbul Square, 11 Killed, 14 Injured

ISTANBUL (Reuters) —
Policemen secure an area at the historic Sultanahmet district, which is popular with tourists, after an explosion in Istanbul, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016. The private Dogan news agency says at least two people were hospitalized following an explosion in the historic center of Istanbul. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Policemen secure an area at the historic Sultanahmet district, which is popular with tourists, after an explosion in Istanbul, Tuesday. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

A Syrian suicide bomber is thought to be responsible for a terror attack which killed eleven people, all foreigners, in the heart of Istanbul’s historic Sultanahmet tourist district on Tuesday, President Tayyip Erdogan said. The terrorist was identified as Nabil Fadli, a 28-year-old Syrian citizen who was born in Saudi Arabia. He was a foreign member of Islamic State, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said.

Nine of the killed in the Istanbul blast on Tuesday were German citizens, Turkish Prime Minister told German Chancellor Angela Merkel by phone, sources in Ahmet Davutoglu’s office said.

Davutoglu also told Merkel on the same phone call that the details of an ongoing investigation regarding the suicide attack will be shared with German officials.

Davutoglu said that he had spoken with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to express condolences. Most of those wounded were also German, he said.

Norway’s foreign ministry said one Norwegian man was injured and was being treated in hospital. The Dogan news agency said one Peruvian was also wounded.

“I condemn the terror incident in Istanbul assessed to be an attack by a suicide bomber with Syrian origin. Unfortunately we have 10 dead including foreigners and Turkish nationals,” Erdogan told a lunch for Turkish ambassadors in Ankara, in a speech broadcast live on national media.

“This incident has once again showed that as a nation we should act as one heart, one body in the fight against terror. Turkey’s determined and principled stance in the fight against terrorism will continue to the end,” he said.

Turkey, a NATO member and candidate for accession to the European Union, is part of a U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State terrorists who have seized territory in neighbouring Syria and Iraq.

“We heard a loud sound and I looked at the sky to see if it was raining because I thought it was thunder but the sky was clear,” said Kuwaiti tourist Farah Zamani, 24, who was shopping at one of the covered bazaars with her father and sister.

A police officer at the scene said the square was not densely packed at the time of the blast, but that small groups of tourists were wandering around.

“It was unimaginable,” he said, describing an amateur video he had seen of the immediate aftermath, with six or seven bodies lying on the ground and other people seriously wounded.

“The explosion was very loud. We shook a lot. We ran out and saw body parts,” one woman who works at a nearby antiques store told Reuters, declining to give her name.

The dull thud of the explosion was heard in districts of Istanbul several kilometres away, residents said. Tourist sites were closed on the governor’s orders, officials said.

Just over a year ago, a female suicide bomber blew herself up at a police station for tourists off the same square, killing one officer and wounding another. That attack was initially claimed by a far-left group, but officials later said it had been carried out by a woman with suspected Islamist terrorist links.

Turkey has become a target for Islamic State, with two bombings last year blamed on the radical Sunni Muslim group, in the town of Suruc near the Syrian border and in the capital Ankara, the latter killing more than 100 people.

Violence has also escalated in the mainly Kurdish southeast since a two-year ceasefire collapsed in July between the state and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) terror group, which has been fighting for three decades for Kurdish autonomy.

The PKK has however generally avoided attacking civilian targets in urban centers outside the southeast in recent years.

“Ambulances started rushing in and I knew it was a bomb right away because the same thing happened here last year,” said Ali Ibrahim Peltek, 40, who operates a kiosk selling snacks and drinks on the square.

“This is not good for Turkey but everyone was expecting a terrorist attack,” he said.

Davutoglu’s office imposed a broadcasting ban on the blast, invoking a law which allows for such steps when there is the potential for serious harm to national security or public order.

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